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The Public Health Institute Celebrates FDA Final Menu Labeling Regulations with Broad Coverage

December 01, 2014

Statement from Lynn Silver, MD, MPH Senior Advisor, Chronic Disease and Obesity Prevention, Public Health Institute

"Prominently posted calorie counts will soon be the norm around the nation at chain restaurants, movie theaters and supermarkets selling ready-to-go food. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued final rules for calorie information on menu labels today, four years after passage of the Affordable Care Act required its nationwide implementation and six years after New York City passed its landmark menu labeling innovation.

The new rules will apply to chains with over 20 locations nationally. In addition to typical fast food, they will include supermarket deli counters, convenience stores and movie theaters as well as salad bars, bakery items and soda fountains. Additional nutritional information - including on salt, saturated fat, trans fat and other nutrients  - must be made available in writing upon request. Alcoholic drinks on the menu in chain restaurants (but not mixed at a bar) must also be labeled. The FDA resisted pressure from movie theaters and other sectors that had pushed hard to be excluded from the final rule.  

 "As portion sizes have expanded to unreasonable levels and restaurant chains with menus laden with high-calorie options have spread, the fight for menu labeling also gained strength, from  the courageous but unsuccessful introduction of the idea in the Congressional MEAL Act to  state legislatures, until its first successful passage by New York City's Board of Health in 2008, which I helped to author.

"After New York, where 84% of consumers found the calorie information useful, the requirement began to spread rapidly across the country. It complements the nutrition facts panel on packaged foods, which was never required for restaurant or prepared foods.

"The requirement for prominent posting of calorie counts across the nation is an important step forward in the fight to reverse the obesity epidemic. It will inform consumers and provide a strong incentive to restaurant chains to reformulate and offer healthier options. No one will order Outback Steakhouse's 1,959-calorie Bloomin' Onion or a tub of 1,200 calories of popcorn unawares.  

"One problem with the new regulation is the companion vending machine rule, which does not live up to the law's requirement that calorie counts be located in close proximity to the item, simply requiring a calorie poster nearby. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a leading advocate for menu labeling, is threatening to sue for a stronger measure for vending machines.

 "Restaurants have one year to comply."